Dear Rabbi Boteach,
I am 26 and I met a guy online who lives in my city, and we have been dating for about a month. We both saw this relationship as having great potential, and we really liked each other. I am a good judge of character and I could tell he was a sincere person and really was interested in pursuing a relationship.
He is family-oriented and extremely close to his family. Recently, his sister was killed in a terrible car accident. He told me that he "just needs to be alone for awhile, hopes I can understand and to have a good life." I am confused, am I suppose to just back off? Do I just give him time? I really want to be there for him because I truly care about him, but I also don't want to intrude. I keep trying to reach out, but I am not getting any response. He hasn't told me to stop trying to reach out, but he hasn't exactly responded either. Things seem to have ended so abruptly. Am I supposed to let go?
Dear So Confused,
There is nothing normal about a man losing his beloved sister out of the blue, so of course your situation is not normal. But it is to be expected that when a person is forced to confront that magnitude of tragedy, they would withdraw into themselves as they settle through the grief and try and recover from a terrible catastrophe. What this means is that your relationship may indeed have a chance to proceed once he heals.
But you are in an awkward situation in that your relationship, while intense, is only a month old. So I am going to make a guess here as to why he has so totally shut you out and shut down the relationship. I am sure you are a very caring and loving woman. But it might just be that he is wondering whether after dating for such a short time, you can truly be there for him. He simply might not have the emotional energy to think about your relationship while he tries to navigate his grief.
What you need to do right now is comfort this man without any thought of a future relationship. Thinking about your future together will have to wait. And that's ok. Because the priority right now is for this poor man to simply piece his broken life back together as he seeks to heal from an event that none of us should ever have to go through. Show him that you care. Show him that you're not selfishly focused on your own plight, but entirely on his.
Write him a note that says, "Words cannot describe how sorry I feel for you have suffered. I know how much you love your family. I wish I could be there with you to help you through this. But maybe that's not what you feel like right now, and I understand. Whatever decision you make as to whether or not you want to stay in touch, just know that I am here for you. Whether we are in a relationship or become just friendly acquaintances, I am still always here. When something this terrible happens, we all need each other and if there is anything whatsoever that I can do please don't hesitate to ask. I ask that G-d bless you and ensure that your sister's memory is always a blessing to you."
By writing a note like this you demonstrate a selfless character, extending yourself for someone in pain without forcing yourself upon them.
If you don't get an answer to this note, then write again in a week and again simply inquire as to how he is coping with the terrible loss. But if you focus on his needs rather than your own in this terrible time, not only is there a real possibility that this relationship can resume, much more importantly, you will have proved yourself to be a caring and loving person who can put aside her own needs in the face of another human being's torment.
G-d bless you always,